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  • Dylan Kling

The rarest cover art: the Thrawn trilogy

The Thrawn Trilogy is probably the most talked-about Trilogy in the history of Star Wars books. As such there isn’t really much to say about it that hasn’t already been said. Just about every Star Wars fan has heard about them in some way, and if you’ve ever met someone who picked up at least one Star Wars book, it is more than likely one of the books they’ve read is from this trilogy.

But after the talk of them getting a new printing with brand new covers, I got to thinking about what is the rarest set of covers for these books, and that’s what I’m here to talk about today.

These are probably the covers fans are most familiar with. It the one that was used for the first printing all the way up to 2016. It was created by Tom Jung, who also did the art for one of the theatre posters for the Empire Strikes Back.

Then in August of 2016 Del Rey announced new covers drawn by Rich Kelly, these new editions were celebrated by fans and many organized to go out and buy them as back then new Legends content, or even acknowledgment of it, was even more scarce than it is today.

And of course, who could forget the 20th-anniversary hardcover that came out in 2011, along with new unabridged audiobooks. This one was done by Christopher M. Zucker and had a bonus novella Crisis of Faith written by Timothy Zahn, which helped convince many to get the new edition so that they could get their hands on a brand-new short story. Even though only book one got the reprinting treatment it is still a cover that many people have in their collections.

But all this leaves out what I believe to be the rarest version of these covers which is this one.

It’s a rather simple as set of covers as it is basically the original with the Legends banner plastered over the top. But consider when it came out and how long it was out. When Del Rey updated the cover they stopped printing the old ones. Once the ones on shelves had been sold every new edition of the paperback Thrawn trilogy made after September of 2016 would have the new cover. With the decanonization happening in April of 2014 that means this edition was only on shelves for under 30 months, or just two and a half years. Even the 20th anniversary cover has a longer printing than that.

But the length of time it was out alone wouldn’t make it the rarest. It is also the timing of it. When the EU was decanonized Legends was obviously at its lowest. Those who weren’t already EU fans had no incentive to read the old stories, as there were new movies coming out that wouldn’t have anything to do with them, while the old fans and those that were still interested in legends, either already had these books, or were tracking down older versions that weren’t “tainted” with the ugly gold banner. You have to remember it took several years for the EU community to come around to the existence of the Legends banner, and even to this day there are those that try to keep their bookshelves clean of it.

But this is just anecdotal evidence and recollections, aside from the length of time it was available there isn’t much hard evidence that this is a rare cover. Sales and printing numbers just aren’t made public within the publishing industry. The closest we have are the 20 books that make the NYT Best Seller’s list and 150 books that make the USA Today’s list. Unless out of the hundreds of thousands of books ever printed you hit the top 150 we don’t know how well the book sold. But while looking into this I found something that can help us out in this case.

I found a website that can create charts showing the average listing price of products on Amazon for the last decade. But why bring up pricing when talking about sales numbers? Well because of supply and demand. Price is dependent on these two things. If supply dwindles or demand goes up the price will rise, and if the price falls then either demand has waned or supply increased. This is one of the most basic concepts in economics and can be applied to almost anything.

Now you may disagree with the assumption I am about to make, but I believe that as the Thrawn Trilogy is one of the most popular books historically in the EU, combined with the fact that the Thrawn Trilogy was one of the few Legends books most book stores kept in stock even as they downgraded their Star Wars sections, that the supply of new copies of the Thrawn Trilogy stayed relatively consistent throughout this period with a few outliers that you can identify quite easily in the chart. And here is that chart.

These are the numbers for mass market paperback editions of Heir to the Empire. In green is Amazon’s own pricing and in blue is the pricing of third party sellers on Amazon. Both of these numbers are of new books to avoid tampering the data with older editions being resold. Basically, whatever cover was out at the time is what is being sold in this.

What this chart shows is that sales of Heir to the Empire were relatively consistent up until about 2013 before dropping, it recovered sporadically but continued on a downward trend, all the way up until late 2016 early 2017 when the price rebounded and hit a 10 year high. The early peak was when the old pre banner cover’s were out, the rebound happened when the new covers were out, and the drop in price happened when the old covers got the Legends Banner.

But that’s just Heir to the Empire, how did the rest of the Trilogy do in that time?

(Note there was a period of time when there was a $10,000 listing of Dark Force Rising that I had to edit out of the data so you can actually see the change during the past 10 years, which also messed up the scaling x-axis of the graphs compared to the others)

Well, basically the same thing. Again, assuming that the print runs didn’t vary during this time span, the dips and rises in price must have been due to demand for these books. Or to put it simply, when the price was low not as many people were buying it, and the price was lowest when the old covers with the Legends banners were the ones in print.

Now does this mean that those covers are the most expensive? And if you still have them you are sitting on an expensive collector’s item? No, not at all, as at the end of the day rarity is only one aspect of what makes something collectable. Ultimately something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. But what I will say is that if you do have a copy of any books in the Thrawn Trilogy with the Legends banner on it and the old cover, you probably have the rarest of all the covers. Well at least of the U.S. variants that is.


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Jun 05, 2021

I actually have that specific cover for Heir To The Empire. It was from back in 1991 but I had no clue it was rare.


Scott Johnson
Scott Johnson
May 07, 2021

Wow. Who would've thought?

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